On Wednesday nights at Ballygiblin's pub in Ottawa, the most animated conversations involve neither hockey nor politics. Instead, over pints of their local microbrew, patrons are more likely to be engrossed in debate over the significance of Jesus Christ in the modern world.
Pastor Ahren Summach of the Ottawa Valley Vineyard church realizes it may be an unorthodox place to hold his weekly theological meetings.
But since they began earlier this year, his sessions regularly draw more than a half-dozen men who gather to drink and examine such questions as, "Is Jesus God?" and "If God is good and all powerful, then why is there suffering in the world?"
The appeal of holding the meetings in a pub, Mr. Summach said, "is trying to blur the lines between what's a sacred space and what's a secular space. Without the religious setting, you get more authentic discussion, more honest questions and a little more honest sharing."
He is not the only one who believes in the benefits of mixing spirituality with spirits.
A growing number of Christian groups from a variety of denominations are taking God to the bars, launching religious-themed pub nights dubbed "martini masses" or "theology on tap" in an effort to broaden their reach.
The trend, believed to have started in Britain, where pubs are an integral part of social life, has spread throughout the United States.
Over the past year, new theology pub groups have also cropped up across Canada, in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.
Often organized by church leaders, these pub nights are generally little different from traditional discussion groups held at churches or community centres, aside from readily available alcohol. While some include a sermon or prayer, Mr. Summach's consists of about an hour-long, informal discussion about a selected topic on faith.
Not everyone within the Christian community approves, however.
Darryl Dash, who organizes a theology pub group in Toronto with members from various churches, said some people have declined to attend because they were uncomfortable with the location. Others said they were worried about how their churches would react.
"There are some churches that are still into temperance and complete abstinence from alcohol," said Mr. Dash, pastor of the Richview Baptist Church.
But he noted that more churches are now tolerant of moderate consumption.
Mr. Summach has also seen a shift in Christians' attitudes.
"Two decades ago, a pastor in an evangelical church trying to do a meeting of any kind in a pub would have been tarred and feathered and run out of town," Mr. Summach said.
Pub nights are part of an ongoing trend of Christians entertaining ideas once considered taboo and exploring religion beyond church walls, he said.
Jesus Christ himself, Mr. Summach noted, was believed to have kept company with religious and non-religious people alike, in all types of situations.
If Jesus were alive today, Mr. Dash adds, a pub is "probably one of the places he would go."
Mr. Summach said his theology pub group was not intended as a vehicle for evangelism. However, pub patrons seated nearby occasionally overhear their discussions and spontaneously join in. Participants of his group range from high-school students (who stick to non-alcoholic beverages) to men in their mid-60s. A few have never been to church at all.
The eclectic mix often results in differences of opinion, Mr. Summach said. But so far, the disagreements have never gotten out of hand. "We haven't really touched on anything that has caused any strong emotional reaction yet."
In Vancouver, Shaila Visser of the interdenominational organization Alpha Canada said pubs provide an ideal space for evangelism.
Ms. Visser, who helped promote "Alpha on Tap," a series of pub discussions that began last month, said around 30 people, nearly half from non-Christian backgrounds, attend each session.
The majority are young professionals looking to unwind after work. And many would probably never have joined the group if the discussions were held in a more formal location, she said.
"It takes away that roadblock to give people the freedom to explore Jesus," she said.
Jeff Graham, communications officer for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, said he has noticed that individual Catholic groups have recently begun initiating theology discussions in pubs around the city.
The Archdiocese maintains that drinking too much alcohol is "a serious matter," Mr. Graham said, suggesting theology pub groups might walk a thin line.
Since Christians believe Jesus's first miracle was turning water into wine, "we know that religion and alcohol can go together," he said. "On the flip side, there are countless warnings in scripture about the perils of drunkenness. So, mixing religious discussion and alcohol can happen, but mixing religious discussion and drunkenness cannot."
Special to The Globe and Mail